John Abercrombie: Animato (ECM 1411)

John Abercrombie
Animato

John Abercrombie guitar, guitar synthesizer
Jon Christensen drums, percussion
Vince Mendoza synthesizers
Recorded October 1989 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Despite the fact of John Abercrombie headlining this curious little album called Animato, the finished product is a real showcase for drummer Jon Christensen and synthesizer virtuoso Vince Mendoza. The latter, who wrote the bulk of the album’s music (the only exceptions being the group improv that begins the set and the Jon Hassell-esque strains of Abercrombie’s “Bright Reign”), fleshes out some of the strokes Abercrombie was already beginning to paint with his synth augmentations in years past. Still, the guitarist is a major melodic force on this date. Where “Right Now” rises from the depths with the torch in his hands, swirling around a fiery center, self-contained yet extroverted, “Single Moon” floats his tenderness over a bass of electronic goodness. Like a skilled R&B singer, he plumbs the ballad to new depths, each new stratum accentuated by the warmth and timeless energy of Mendoza’s tasteful atmospheres. In this vein, the sequencer qualities of “Agitato” make for a bed of ashes from which the guitar rises like a phoenix and duets with drums in powerful conversation amid gorgeous synth lines and a classically inflected refrain. After the swelling interlude of “First Light” we come into the bubbling abstractions of “Last Light,” in which Abercrombie dances like fire on water. The darkly anthemic “For Hope Of Hope” is an audible mirage throughout which Christensen proves a fantastic painter of colors, even as Mendoza deepens them in a continuous pall of time and narrative experience. We end with a lullaby in “Ollie Mention.” This is perhaps Abercrombie at his most sensitive yet somehow spirited as he tumbles over comforting waves into the final recession of the tide.

The inclusion of Mendoza on this album was a stroke of genius. On the one hand he is an extension of what Abercrombie already implies, while on the other he emotes with such distinctness that one feels the session pushed to new territories with every touch. Together these musicians bring a storyteller’s art to wordless songs, hollowing a vein of shadow through which the blood of dreams runs bright.

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